MINI Paceman Cooper S Review

OUR TEST CAR: 2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman Automatic

MINI Paceman Cooper S - Page - 1
We are living in the era of the reinvented Coupe, with more and more carmakers striving to give us this French word with as many doors as we like it. MINI, being MINI, used its own approach for redefining the term.

After the British automaker had stretched its principles into a Sports Activity Vehicle form, creating the Countryman, now they came back and said “No, we want something that’s closer to the normal MINI.”

At first, it may seem that the Paceman has some aiming issues. A niche within a niche might seem too much for some. However, if we consider that the Countryman has quickly become the best-selling model in the range, a new MINI of its kind suddenly makes sense. The optional all-wheel drive is here and so is the extra space, so the main assets of the Countryman were kept.

When MINI introduced the Paceman concept back in 2011, they used complex marketing notions, such as “a new category of car”. Nevertheless, one can argue that a Countryman with a chopped roof and a few other changes at the back is not all that fresh.

Well, we wanted to see for ourselves if a few days spent with the Paceman will give us the bespoke feeling you expect from such a car. We went for the funky man’s choice, the 184 HP Cooper S, which spares you of being labeled as a poser, as it packs some decent muscle.

When we went to pick up the car, we didn’t have to search for it too much in the huge parking lot. It was the little but somehow big guy wagging its tail like a young Labrador.

Any MINI knows that, in order to be loved by humans, it has to be playful. While the Countryman had to make efforts to send this message due to the SAV-ification of its body, the Paceman can run free.

This is described as a Sports Activity Coupe, which means that, by definition, its lines are supposed to be unconventional. Up to the windshield though, nothing is changed compared to the Countryman. However, from this point on, we are treated with new styling cues.

The fresh profile is dictated by the swooping roof line - the MINI Paceman has urban-cool looks, as if it's wearing its cap the other way around. As the roof’s profile goes down towards the rear of the car, it extends via the rear window spoiler and the visual impression it creates is accentuated.

The Paceman may look all innocent, but it’s a cheeky little devil, as it uses a few tricks to accentuate its coupe silhouette. These include the chrome lined at the base of the greenhouse, as well as the blacked out pillars, a move borrowed from the Countryman.

The rear end holds more subtle changes, but their effect adds up and makes the Paceman look more dynamic than the Countryman. The taillights are now closer to the headlights in terms of design. It’s almost as if you’re expecting the rear hatch to include two holes for the lights like the hood does.

And in between the new rear lights sits MINI’s first model that wears a rear name tag. Further down, we find a rear apron that, surprisingly, is more rugged than that of the Paceman. This MINI wants to be a tough guy!

Despite borrowing its front section and even its wheelbase from the MINI Countryman, the Paceman manages to allow you to instantly recognize it when standing next to its bigger brother.

Once you go past the long door of the MINI Paceman, you'll notice that the interior of the car looks like a Countryman cabin that's received a more special configuration.

There are only minor differences between the two interiors. Apart from the obvious changes that take place in the back, the Paceman marks the migration of the window switches from the Bat cave on the center console to the door fascias. The latest revamp has also brought this on the Countryman. God, we thank you for this ergonomics boost.

While in the Countryman you can choose between a four-seat and a "two-seat plus rear bench" configuration, here you can only have the first. The center rail is definitely rejoicing.

Speaking of this, while we like the practicality and originality of the rail, we would've appreciated more efforts for the visual part, as this looks a bit unfinished.

Fortunately, having almost the same interior as the Countryman means that we get to enjoy the little tricks that make MINI want you to give a high five to their cars.

We've been stuck in the traffic jam for quite a few minutes now and we've found an excellent remedy for the frustration - we're staring at the center dash arrangement and imagining the connection between Mickey Mouse's face and the layout of the center speedo together with the two central air vents.

And then there's the windshield, which uses its overly curved profile to give you a unique perspective on the world. Even the way in which the dashboard leaves a lot of space between you and the base of the windshield generates a feeling of youthfulness.

And when you grab the shifter of the automatic gearbox, you'll notice that the unlocking element is shaped like a helmet's visor. A bit of an overkill here.

The funny thing is that most of these elements don't sacrifice function for form. On the contrary, there are some that are extremely practical, such as the hazard lights button. This is placed on top of the dash and pressing it feels as natural as pointing your finger at something.

The icing on this attitude cake is the ambient lighting, which, if you're not shy with the optionals, will include both the center rail and the door fascias.

As for the times when you need to store your shopping bags, the Paceman is only slightly less spacious than the Countryman. The luggage compartment offers 11.7 cubic feet (331 liters). However, if anybody ever upsets you, offer him or her the value with the seats folded, 38 cubic feet (1,080 liters).

Few vehicles manage to make people smile in today’s hyper-crowded city traffic and the MINI Paceman is one of them. The styling changes brought to differentiate the car from the Paceman make it look sleek and this is easy to notice.

Fortunately, you don’t have to pay for the new lines in visibility currency, so nothing keeps this MINI from fulfilling its city car destiny. Parking is thus dealt with quickly, but we can’t help think that some front parking sensors would’ve been a nice companion for the rear ones.

In the Cooper S guise, the car is playful and it’s basically asking you to sprint it from time to time. In the Sport mode, the force fed 1.6-liter occasionally pops its exhaust when you lift off the throttle. This is an old trick in MINI’s book, but it’s a sweet incentive nonetheless.

Within the city’s borders, the Paceman Cooper S feels properly quick. Here the extra weight compared to a MINI hatchback seems to disappear and you feel like you can ride the acceleration wave whenever you like. And it’s not that “in your head feeling”, this thing can eat up the portion of tarmac between two traffic lights pretty fast.

Alas, it’s a bit difficult to recommend a gearbox choice. The six-speed manual increases the fun of the aforementioned play, but we all know that traffic nowadays requires you to operate the clutch more often than you breathe. An automatic with just as many ratios is available and while this does a decent job, you can feel that it affects both the performance and the fuel efficiency.

We’re at the pump now, everybody’s got a bit of a sad face on in the cars round us, be we’re not upset. We were prepared for a tough figure like the 16.8 mpg (14 l/100 km) shown on the dash. The aggressive setup of the powerplant and the not so fresh automatic battle for a portion of the fuel tank.

Nevertheless, we exit quickly - we told you that people like the MINI Paceman, so you won’t have to wait too long for somebody to let you integrate into the traffic matrix.

Ouch! That pothole really didn’t seem too big, but, especially on the 19-inch rims, there’s a strong shock sent throughout the cabin when you meet a larger road caprice. Apart from that, the suspension does a decent job at filtering out the minor imperfections in the tarmac.

It’s already evening and so we’re driving around with no aim at all. There’s something entirely pleasing about hearing the buzz of the MINI Paceman Cooper S exhaust as the boulevards fly by.

MINI's center speedo trick never gets old. We're cruising along at a pretty rapid pace and the orange bubble floats along the super-sized dial smoothly, reminding us of cars that come from another era. This is a feature that we never want to see disappearing.

We've been pushing the Paceman over crests and through devilish corners for a few hours now, but we're still feeling relaxed. The MINI Cooper S Paceman doesn't makes us sweat like a hot hatch would, despite offering a fun drive.

The Cooper S is worthy of the badge, leaving the dynamic drawbacks of the Countryman behind. Drive the car in a spirited manner and it will play along. However, if you take it past eight or nine tenths, it will fail to deliver the expected sensations.

The force-fed 1.6-liter is pretty poky, keeps the turbo lag to a decent level and pushes along with linearity up to the rev limiter. The unit is rather thirsty though, with the vehicle returning an average of 19.6 mpg (12 liters per 100 km) during our test drive.

The six-speed automatic does a fair job, but offers nothing more. Even the paddles are set up in an unintuitive way. Both can be used for upshifting and downshifting and when you're in a hurry you may be confused at times, just like it happens with Porsche's buttons. This is certainly the MINI Paceman's weak tech link. We'll have to wait until the next generation of MINI vehicles in order to get an eight-speed auto.

Alas, as we're introducing the throttle to the carpet underneath coming out of a second gear bend, we're not getting 100 percent of the thrills of a hot hatch.

When you're driving at the limit, you do feel the need for some extra torque and once you go past 80 mph (130 km/h) you don't get the same punch anymore.

You simply have to tick the box of the optional ALL4 four-wheel drive system and this has nothing to do with taking the MINI Paceman off the road.

You don't even need to drive it too fast on tarmac in order to feel the need for some rear-wheel aid. That's because the front-wheel drive model torque steers all over the place. Use more than half of the throttle's travel and the steering seems to develop a mind of its own. It's not hard to correct this, but it does become tiring after a while.

We've just gone through a series of bends that left the tires in pain and we're sorry to report that the steering is a bit vague. The good news is that now you can push the Sport button without this making the steering worse. Basically, you can drive the Paceman in Sport all day long.

The sports suspension that comes as standard on the Paceman does makes the car feel light on its feet through the corners but once you go past the limits of grip the movements of the car become a bit hard to predict. That's because there's still some body roll there, just with a shorter travel than in the Countryman.

The Paceman range starts with 16-inch wheels and while the Copper S rides on 17-inch rims, you shouldn't go for the optional 18- or 19-inch rollers. These make the ride crashy and will interfere with the pleasure offered by the overall experience.
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autoevolution Jun 2013
In the city
Open road
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78user rating 30 votes
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